In E.A. Smiroldo’s debut novel, The Silent Count, their characters go through a lot of difficulties. One important theme is that of addictions. Two of the main characters exhibit signs of addiction and their struggles impact the plot and their relationship with other characters. Let’s dig deeper in this author’s portrayal of addictions, which are still too often taboo in our society. Beware of spoilers.
What’s the story about?
The Silent Count is a fiction novel, set in contemporary United States. The story centres around Dara Bouldin, a young government employee, specialized in nuclear technology and geo-engineering. One day, she’s contacted by Alexander Fallsworth, a CIA agent wishing to develop and implement her geo-engineering model to counter climate change. She accepts what seems to be at first the ideal opportunity to actually improve the country’s weather and reduce natural disasters, only to realize later that Alexander might not be completely truthful with her.
Gambling life away
The first character with an addiction the reader learns about is Dara’s father, Avery. Since the death of his wife in a wildfire, Avery started gambling to cope with the grief. We understand quite quickly that his gambling turned into a severe behavioural addiction. This addiction greatly impacts Dara’s own life as we learn that “Her credit report revealed major gambling debts and maxed out charge cards, but it was clear that her father was responsible” (page 41).
Avery’s addiction cost them their house in the past, forced a teenage Dara to act as an adult and led them to a life of scarcity and struggle. But throughout the book, we can see the long-term consequences: as Dara loses her government job, she stresses about the fact that her credit report would be a problem to find another job, and that, on top of buying necessities, they still had debts to pay.
On a more positive note, the author depicts Avery as genuinely trying to overcome his addiction. He’s joined a support group, Gamblers Anonymous, works hard to provide for his daughter, and even when Dara leaves at one point in the story, he doesn’t relapse.
The second character with an addiction is Dmitri, a visiting Russian engineer working at Dara’s government agency. He grows close to Dara and they start a relationship, albeit one they keep private from their coworkers. As they start to spend time together, Dara notices piles of empty alcohol bottles in the bin at his place. Additionally, she feels that he’s still somehow distant with her, adding to the unease she gradually feels towards him.
His alcohol addiction becomes fully visible halfway through the story, with a painful scene between him and Dara. Instead of his usually neat and tidy self, Dmitri inadvertently meets Dara looking haggard and dishevelled, smelling of alcohol.
In this scene, the author shows denial on Dmitri’s part, as he repeatedly affirms he’s not an addict, which can often be a common reaction to dealing with difficult issues.
We see pain and fear on Dara’s part in how she relives her father’s addiction and seeks to help Dmitri too.
The reader learns later that the problems that led him to drinking were his spying duties, especially having discover Alexander’s dishonesty towards Dara.
Despite not being the central focus of the story, the author manages to incorporate the quite heavy topic of addiction, using not one but two of the main characters. There’s a stark but subtle contrast between Avery and Dmitri’s addictions and Dara and Jericho’s “straight edge” lifestyle, in which they don’t consume alcohol, drugs, nor smoke. The addictions mentioned add even more drama and realism to the plot, and we can notice throughout the book how they shift the events and impact the characters.
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